Jason Bourne has resurfaced, a reporter for the Guardian is writing about Blackbriar and the CIA is in full damage control mode. They bring on Edward Norton to assess the situation and navigate the fallout. His plan: Close down everything that can be traced to Blackbriar, including the completely separate Outcome program. All over the globe, Outcome agents, physically and mentally enhanced through a virus, are being poisoned or taken out by other means. Only Jeremy Renner manages to evade the drones send to kill him and is searching for a way to ensure his supply of the enhancing chemicals he needs.
Such is the plot of The Bourne Legacy, the Jeremy Renner spin-off to the Bourne trilogy. On release it got middling reviews. However, I wanted to give the movie a second chance, seeing as there’s a new Bourne movie in cinemas right now. And honestly, what a nice surprise this film was. I didn’t remember too much from the last (and only) time I watched it, except for the fact that towards the third act there is a period without action that goes on too long followed by a motorcycle chase that goes on way too long. Some of that is still true, but apart from that, The Bourne Legacy is actually really good.
First, the story is actually pretty great. The Bourne trilogy, great as it is, tends to blend together for a lot of people, because the story follows roughly the same structure each time. The Bourne Legacy keeps some of that but offers a few nice twists. The team around Edward Norton for example, trying to limit the damage that the revelation of Jason Bourne and Blackbriar, are constantly reacting to the events of The Bourne Ultimatum, which takes place at the same time.
Another nice variation is the Outcome program itself. Whereas Treadstone and Blackbriar worked with behavioural modification, Outcome is based on chemistry. Also, throughout the film we get the sensation that Outcome agents are also used differently. The first time we meet Aaron Cross, our protagonist, he is absolving a training course for Outcome agents in the Canadian wilderness. In a flashback, we see Aaron Cross after a mission, in a warzone. Compare this to Blackbriars urban infiltration agents.
Cross is definitely closer to the classic special forces action hero, but he has the same air of competence around him that makes Bourne so compelling to watch. An early scene shows him going up against a military drone, switching between him and the drone control room. The cold, almost bored atmosphere in the control room contrasts brilliantly with Cross’ laser-focussed action. Renner conveys the feeling that he is expending exactly the amount of energy that is needed to take down the drone, not a bit more or less. And when he does, everything flips. The control room is taken over by confusion, while Renner calms down instantly and focusses on the next goal.
But action is nothing without character, and here, The Bourne Legacy shines just as well. Cross is different from Bourne. He has different goals and a different past. Just like Bourne, he is driven by his main weakness. Bourne is trying to overcome his amnesia, while Cross needs to figure out a way to beat his dependency on the skill-enhancing chemicals. However, just quitting isn’t an option, since he is still hunted. And apart from that, Cross gets to show a little bit of wit and charm as well. Edward Norton also plays a very compelling antagonist. He isn’t simply hunting Cross, he has a bigger mission and Cross is part of it. We see him in meetings trying to convince his superiors of the sacrifices that are necessary to survive the revelations of The Bourne Ultimatum. Finally, there is Rachel Weisz, who plays a doctor helping Aaron Cross. She starts off strong and plays the trauma she goes through very convincingly, however, of all the characters, she suffers most in the third act and ends the film almost Bond-girl-like.
And that’s really where the problem lies. The first hour of this movie is absolutely spectacular. The action takes what we know from Jason Bourne and re-contextualizes it, puts it in different settings. The characters are different, but clearly belong in this universe. It is a brilliant spin-off, until it starts spinning its wheels without moving anywhere in the third act. There are a few scenes of Aaron Cross showing off his infiltration skills, which are fine, but when it comes to the final action scene, a bike chase, it just goes on too long. Not only that, it goes on for too long, comes to an end, and then starts again, just to go on for a few more minutes. The action is fine, but the pacing is off. And then the film doesn’t do itself any favours by ending in the most clichéd James Bond ending you could think of.
So that’s it. The Bourne Legacy, a great spin-off that just doesn’t stick the landing. Having seen Jason Bourne, the newest entry in the franchise, I have to say, I prefer Legacy. It is a more uneven film, certainly, and no moment in Jason Bourne falls as low as The Bourne Legacy does towards the end, but Jason Bourne also never reaches the same heights.